Composite Sound Effect

Learning Goal: I’m working on a illustrations project and need support to help me learn.



 Multitrack sound effect mix

First of all, what do we mean by composite? A composite is simply defined as something that is made up of multiple materials, components, parts, elements, etc. A precise definition will be domain dependent. When we are cooking, we frequently produce composite foods. Bread is typically a composite of flour, water and yeast. Carbon fiber is a composite material produced by combining carbon structures with a synthetic resin or other materials.

We produce composites to combine the properties of one thing with those of another, resulting in something that has more specialized characteristics that we find desirable.

A composite sound effect blends multiple individual sounds together to produce a sound did not previously exist, or would difficult or impossible to directly record.

While there are many examples and applications of composite sounds, we will specifically take inspiration from the use of composite sounds as “sound effects” for films.

You will:

  • Record audio source material
  • Produce a composite sound for an imagined event, machine, creature or other specific creative purpose
    • Composite sound effects must be compose of a minimum of three (3) unique sounds that you have recorded.
      • Additional sounds can be generated in Audition to add to these recorded elements.
    • Composite sound effects should be 3 to 15 seconds in duration.
  • Produce a brief audio descriptive breakdown of your composite sound
    • presenting each sound element individually
    • explaining how the individual elements are manipulated and layered to produce the final result


You are expected to spend at least 4 hours on this project. This estimate includes time to: record your own source materials, conceptualize a purpose for your sound effect, investigate editing techniques, produce your composite sound effect, plan and record a script for your description of your sound construction process, edit your final audio sequence and upload your final product. If you are completely new to this software and do not have significant experience with similar DAW (digital audio workstation) tools, assume that you will need to add an additional hour to get acclimated to the workspace and basic techniques.

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate proficiency with basic sound recording, following best practices for clear, high quality results.
  • Demonstrate a basic technical and conceptual proficiency with Adobe Audition.
    • Build multitrack audio with a variety of audio assets.
    • Perform basic audio editing to optimize levels and clarity of recorded sounds.
    • Apply audio effects and processing to sounds to achieve specific practical and expressive effects.
  • Create a composite sound effect that is tailored to a specific expressive objective.
  • Apply the concepts and vocabulary of the elements and principles of design to a description of the characteristics of, and relations between, sonic elements.



    • Sign up for your free Adobe Creative Cloud account through ASU: ASU UTO Adobe Creative Cloud access requestLinks to an external site.
    • Download Adobe Audition using the Creative Cloud application or Adobe website.
      • You will also need Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro and Media Encoder for other class modules. I recommend installing these right away so you don’t have to worry about doing so later in this very compressed class timeframe.
    • For this assignment you will only be using Adobe Audition.
      • You may already be using a similar DAW software such as Garage Band, Logic Pro, Reaper or Pro Tools. While any DAW with multitrack sequencing, direct waveform editing and a versatile effects signal chain could work for this assignment, I request that you use Audition. This request is for two primary reasons. First, if everyone is using the same software, it is easier to share knowledge on specific editing techniques. Second, working with Audition will help you when you transition to using Adobe Premiere Pro for the video editing module. The workspaces of these tools are closely related and designed to work together.
    • Launch Audition

    • Imagine something that might exist, or some event that might occur, in a (science fiction, fantasy, superhero, horror, animated) film.
      • This could include:
        • Creatures
        • Machines
        • Vehicles
        • Portals (doors, windows and beyond)
        • Collisions
        • Fusions
        • Vocalizations
        • Starting up
        • Shutting down
        • etc….
      • What does this thing or event sound like like?
      • Try putting on a favorite film that you know has a rich soundscape and only listen (close your eyes or otherwise block out the visual information) to get more inspiration.
      • Study the work of Sound Designers and Foley Artists. Ben Burtt is one of the most widely recognized and influential sound designers in the film industry.

    • Record sounds
      • For most students, your phone will serve as your best mobile sound recording tool. If you have more specialized professional options, you can certainly use them, but most relatively contemporary phones have fairly good sound recording capabilities and are certainly adequate for this module.
      • To get the best quality out of your recording device
        • Get as close to the sound source as is reasonable and and safe (this will give you more of the signal you want to record, with less background noise)
        • Use a wind screen (if there is any wind blowing over the microphone).
          • A lightweight sock stretched over your microphone (phone) can make a big improvement
        • Isolate the sound source as much as possible.
        • Minimize reflections (unless this is a feature of the sound you are recording)
          • If the sound source fits in your closet with you, record it there. The clothing will absorb reflections. Recording (your voice or other portable sound sources) under a table with blankets hanging over the sides is an excellent way to minimize unwanted reflections and block out other external sounds.
        • Listen to your recordings!
          • Ideally you would “monitor” the recording in real time.
          • Listen as soon as possible so you can make adjustments and record again if needed.
      • Gather a diverse range of sounds
        • You may have a specific idea for a primary sound for your composite sound effect, but remember, the idea is to blend and manipulate sounds to produce a sound that is unique, rich and evocative. This will likely require a broader range of source materials.
        • Find a range of spectral qualities
          • Spectral refers to the combination of frequencies that make up a sound. Most sounds have a mix of frequencies, but typically some frequency range dominates. We describe some sounds as “bassy” (lots of low frequency content), while others might be “tinny” (a thinner sound dominated by higher frequencies), or “glassy” (which can mean a lot of different things to different listeners). Just try to capture a range of sounds that have very different spectral qualities.
        • Find sounds with a range of temporal qualities
        • You will be recording your speaking voice for the explanatory content of this project, but don’t include your voice (or anyone else’s) as part of your sound effect. Yes, your voice is highly versatile and expressive, but I don’t want you to rely on it for this exercise.
      • Organize your sounds into folders
        • For large collections, additional meta-data is often generated to classify sounds and make them searchable
      • Locate your sound folders using the Media Browser in Audition
      • Create a “New Multitrack Session”
      • Select sounds from your folders and add them to your tracks.
        • Stack the samples so they play simultaneously.
        • Mute and solo to hear various combinations of sounds.
      • Experimentally apply effects on the tracks and/or audio clips
      • Experimentally apply envelopes to your tracks
      • Experiment with direct waveform editing of the clips
        • Use “Convert to Unique Copy” before directly editing your clips!
        • There are a lot of effects options that are only available in the direct waveform editing. Keep making unique copies of your clips and keep experimenting.
      • As you experiment, you will likely get more ideas. Don’t hesitate to start new multitrack sessions, or make additional copies further down the timeline to explore a range of ideas. (Remember that any changes you make to a clip (unless you first convert it to a unique copy) will be reflected in every use of that clip in your session!)
      • Take notes on your process, what tools you are using, what you are thinking about the results, etc. as you work. You will need this information for your description of your sound effect production.
      • Once you have a sound effect that you are happy with:
        • Produce a brief audio descriptive breakdown of your composite sound
          • present each sound element individually
          • explain how the individual elements are manipulated and layered to produce the final result
          • describe your intended application of the sound (what would we see when we hear this sound if it was in a film?)
        • Assemble your finished sound effect and your audio description of your process into a single multitrack session mix.
        • Use Export > Multitrack Mixdown to export your project as an MP3 file. (You will upload this file.)
        • Repeat the Multitrack Mixdown to save an uncompressed version of your project (AIFF or WAVE). (Archive this file.)


  • Upload the MP3 audio file that includes your composite sound effect and your audio description of your design process.
  • Archive (don’t upload) your original Audition session(s) (with all your layers, audio effects, envelopes, etc.) and an uncompressed stereo (two channel) audio mixdown (in AIFF or WAVE format).
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